More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld's Resignation
From left, Major General Paul D. Eaton, General Anthony
C. Zinni, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Major General John Batiste,
Major General John Riggs and Major General Charles H. Swannack Jr.
WASHINGTON, April 13 — The widening circle of retired generals who have
stepped forward to call for Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation is shaping up as an unusual outcry
that could pose a significant challenge to Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership,
current and former generals said on Thursday.
Joao Silva for The New York Times
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr. of the Army met
with a sheik on Feb. 9, 2004 in Ramadi, Iraq, before a provincial
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., who led troops on the ground in Iraq
as recently as 2004 as the commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division,
on Thursday became the fifth retired senior general in recent days to call
publicly for Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster. Also Thursday, another retired Army
general, Maj. Gen. John Riggs, joined in the fray.
"We need to continue to fight the global war on terror and keep it off
our shores," General Swannack said in a telephone interview. "But I do not
believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right person to fight that war based on
his absolute failures in managing the war against Saddam in Iraq."
Another former Army commander in Iraq, Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who led
the First Infantry Division, publicly broke ranks with Mr. Rumsfeld on
Wednesday. Mr. Rumsfeld long ago became a magnet for political attacks.
But the current uproar is significant because Mr. Rumsfeld's critics
include generals who were involved in the invasion and occupation of Iraq
under the defense secretary's leadership.
There were indications on Thursday that the concern about Mr. Rumsfeld,
rooted in years of pent-up anger about his handling of the war, was
sweeping aside the reticence of retired generals who took part in the Iraq
war to criticize an enterprise in which they participated. Current and
former officers said they were unaware of any organized campaign to seek
Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster, but they described a blizzard of telephone calls
and e-mail messages as retired generals critical of Mr. Rumsfeld weighed
the pros and cons of joining in the condemnation.
Even as some of their retired colleagues spoke out publicly about Mr.
Rumsfeld, other senior officers, retired and active alike, had to be
promised anonymity before they would discuss their own views of why the
criticism of him was mounting. Some were concerned about what would happen
to them if they spoke openly, others about damage to the military that
might result from amplifying the debate, and some about talking outside of
channels, which in military circles is often viewed as inappropriate.
The White House has dismissed the criticism, saying it merely reflects
tensions over the war in Iraq. There was no indication that Mr. Rumsfeld
was considering resigning.
"The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job
during a challenging period in our nation's history," the White House
spokesman, Scott McClellan, told reporters on Thursday.
Among the retired generals who have called for Mr. Rumsfeld's ouster,
some have emphasized that they still believe it was right for the United
States to invade Iraq. But a common thread in their complaints has been an
assertion that Mr. Rumsfeld and his aides too often inserted themselves
unnecessarily into military decisionmaking, often disregarding advice from
The outcry also appears based in part on a coalescing of concern about
the toll that the war is taking on American armed forces, with little
sign, three years after the invasion, that United States troops will be
able to withdraw in large numbers anytime soon.
Pentagon officials, while acknowledging that Mr. Rumsfeld's forceful
style has sometimes ruffled his military subordinates, played down the
idea that he was overriding the advice of his military commanders or
ignoring their views.
His interaction with military commanders has "been frequent," said
Lawrence Di Rita, a top aide to Mr. Rumsfeld.
"It's been intense," Mr. Di Rita said, "but always there's been ample
opportunity for military judgment to be applied against the policies of
the United States."
Some retired officers, however, said they believed the momentum was
turning against Mr. Rumsfeld.
"Are the floodgates opening?" asked one retired Army general, who drew
a connection between the complaints and the fact that President Bush's
second term ends in less than three years. "The tide is changing, and
folks are seeing the end of this administration."
No active duty officers have joined the call for Mr. Rumsfeld's
resignation. In interviews, some currently serving general officers
expressed discomfort with the campaign against Mr. Rumsfeld, which has been
spearheaded by, among others, Gen.
Anthony C. Zinni, who headed the United States Central Command in the
late 1990's before retiring from the Marine Corps. Some of the currently
serving officers said they feared the debate risked politicizing the
military and undercutting its professional ethos.
Some say privately they disagree with aspects of the Bush
administration's handling of the war. But many currently serving officers,
regardless of their views, say respect for civilian control of the military
requires that they air differences of opinion in private and stay silent in
"I support my secretary of defense," Lt. General John Vines, who commands
the Army's 18th Airborne Corps, said when questioned after a speech in
Washington on Thursday about the calls for Mr. Rumsfeld to step down. "If I
publicly disagree with my civilian leadership, I think I've got to resign.
My advice should be private."
Some of the tensions between Mr. Rumsfeld and the uniformed military
services date back to his arrival at the Pentagon in early 2001. Mr.
Rumsfeld's assertion of greater civilian control over the military and his
calls for a slimmer, faster force were viewed with mistrust by many senior
officers, while his aggressive, sometimes abrasive style also earned him
Mr. Rumsfeld's critics often point to his treatment of Gen. Eric
Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, who told Congress a month before the
2003 invasion of Iraq that occupying the country could require "several
hundred thousand troops," rather than the smaller force that was later
provided. General Shinseki's estimate was publicly dismissed by Pentagon
"Rumsfeld has been contemptuous of the views of senior military officers
since the day he walked in as secretary of defense. It's about time they got
sick and tired," Thomas E. White, the former Army secretary, said in a
telephone interview on Thursday. Mr. White was forced out of his job by Mr.
Rumsfeld in April of 2003.
Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold of the Marine Corps, who retired in late 2002,
has said he regarded the American invasion of Iraq unnecessary. He issued
his call for replacing Mr. Rumsfeld in an essay in the current edition of
Time magazine. General Newbold said he regretted not opposing the invasion
of Iraq more vigorously, and called the invasion peripheral to the job of
General Swannack, by contrast, continues to support the invasion but said
that Mr. Rumsfeld had micromanaged the war in Iraq, rather than leaving it
to senior commanders there, including Gen. George W. Casey Jr. of the Army,
the top American officer in Iraq, and Gen. John P. Abizaid of the Army, the
top officer in the Middle East. "My belief is Rumsfeld does not really
understand the dynamic of counterinsurgency warfare," General Swannack said.
The string of retired generals calling for Rumsfeld's removal has touched
off a vigorous debate within the ranks of both active-duty and retired
generals and admirals.
Some officers who have worked closely with Mr. Rumsfeld reject the idea
that he is primarily to blame for the inability of American forces to defeat
the insurgency in Iraq. One active-duty, four-star Army officer said he had
not heard among his peers widespread criticism of Mr. Rumsfeld, and said he
thought the criticism from his retired colleagues was off base. "They are
entitled to their views, but I believe them to be wrong. And it is
unfortunate they have allowed themselves to become in some respects,
Gen. Jack Keane, who was Army vice chief of staff in 2003 before
retiring, said in the planning of the Iraq invasion, senior officers as much
as the Pentagon's civilian leadership underestimated the threat of a
"There's shared responsibility here. I don't think you can blame the
civilian leadership alone," he said.
Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army general, called for Mr.
Rumsfeld's resignation in March.
The criticism of Mr. Rumsfeld may spring from multiple motives. General
Zinni, for example, is in the middle of a tour promoting a new book critical
of the Bush administration.
General Riggs, who called for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation in an interview
on Thursday with National Public Radio, left the Pentagon in 2004 after
clashing with civilian leaders and then being investigated for potential
misuse of contractor personnel.
But there were also signs that the spate of retired generals calling for
Mr. Rumsfeld's departure was not finished. Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, who is
retired from the Marine Corps, said in an interview Thursday he had received
a telephone call from another retired general who was weighing whether to
publicly join the calls for Mr. Rumsfeld's dismissal.
"He was conflicted, and when I hung up I didn't know which way he was
going to go," General Van Riper said.